Effect of primary care referral on emergency department use: evaluation of a statewide Medicaid program

Fam Med. 1996 Mar;28(3):178-82.


Background and objectives: Medicaid recipients without a regular source of care frequently use hospital emergency departments (EDs) for minor problems. This study examined whether referring Medicaid patients to primary care physicians and obstetricians results in a decrease in ED use and an increase in physician office visits.

Methods: The statewide Voluntary Initiative Program (VIP), which referred Medicaid patients to primary care physicians and obstetricians without any managed care component, was examined. Claims data were reviewed for Medicaid clients 0-64 years old who obtained VIP referrals during the first 5 months of the program. The change in rate of visits to hospital EDs and physician offices was compared for the study group (n = 444) and for the state's overall Medicaid population (n = 40,860).

Results: After referral, ED use decreased 24% for the VIP group and 4% for the Medicaid population. During the same period, physician office visits increased 50% for the VIP group but decreased 13% for the Medicaid population.

Conclusions: Even in the absence of managed care, referral to primary care physicians and obstetricians resulted in fewer ED visits and more physician office visits. These findings confirm the importance of primary care in improving the efficiency of health care delivery for the Medicaid population.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Medicaid* / trends
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Primary Health Care / trends*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Referral and Consultation* / standards
  • Referral and Consultation* / trends
  • United States